Thursday, March 13, 2014

M. Gary

I was greatly saddened a couple of days ago to learn of the passing of an old friend, M. Gary.

Herve Gary was a local farmer and I often turned to him to help me along as I struggled to merge my habits from gardening in the United Kingdom into those needed to grow vegetables in rural south west France.

I first met M. Gary just a few weeks after I moved here back in 2004 and over the years he gave me a tremendous amount of help and support.   I often visited his farm, which is just along the road a little, and marvelled at his whole approach to a very simplistic way of farming with his dog and chickens roaming unhindered in his yard.   I remember going there one day to collect some eggs.   As I approached I saw M. Gary’s head peering out of a deep hole.   He explained that he was setting up a new kitchen garden, nearer to the farmhouse and the hole was to bury compost to enrich the soil

Most people would, today, recognise his methods as “organic” although, when I once chatted to Herve about this he brushed aside the label “Organic” saying that he didn’t “do organic farming” as there were far too many rules and restrictions.    However, when I then asked if he used any chemicals on his farm, he simply asked me why he would need to buy chemicals when he produced everything he needed for the land.    

I often used to see him tilling the land on a field across the road using just a hoe.   He would be toiling away in the heat of midday wearing his trade mark cap

M Gary was 91 this year and continued to farm up until a few weeks ago when he fell ill.

I have many happy memories of Herve and will miss him a great deal.  I really regret not having a photo of him.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

More about the Nesting Box

nesting box

Sitting out on the terrace with my early morning cup of tea, this morning, I noticed a dirty mark below the hole on the new nesting box.   A closer look revealed that it was in fact the tail feathers of a tit that had gone into the box.    I watched for a while as the tit poked it’s head in and out,looked around and then went back into the box.  A short while later, It came back out and flew off.

I don’t know much about the habits of tits when looking for nesting sites but I’m hopeful that my box wil prove attractive to one and am reassured by this early visit.

I have also hung 5 different bird feeders in my fig tree, all of which I can see from my chair on the terrace and all of which I enjoy watching.NNBW-logo   It mainly seems to be great tits and coal tits visiting at the moment, but that might simply be that they are the birds I recognise.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

This Morning

I took my cup of tea out onto the terrace and sat for a while to watch the birds and anything else that was stirring.

I usually make a pot of tea to drink with my breakfast.  I tend to eat breakfast sitting in my bedroom, in front of the window overlooking the fields to the east of the house.  However, today, there was very little stirring so, having finished eating I took my tea out onto the covered terrace which looks south into the main garden

I say after I’d finished eating, but I don’t really eat much breakfast, usually just a slice of toast and of course, my big pot of tea.  This morning I had bread and butter as I had baked a multi-cereal and nut loaf and it smelled so delicious in the kitchen.

The terrace is open sided but covered, which this morning was a great thing as it was pouring with rain.   In fact, it was both cold and raining and for a moment I considered just going back inside to the warmth of the house.

Sitting on the terrace you look at a very old fig tree which I neglect quite badly and allow to run free.   I’ve hung a couple of bird feeders in it’s branches,, a couple of different nuts, a coconut and a feeder of assorted seeds, which attracts quite a few small birds.   This is really why I like to take my tea out there.  It makes a lovely relaxing way to wake up before starting my day.   Now I’m retired I have much more time in the morning to enjoy life without the rush to catch a crowded commuter train.

However, this morning I guess all the small birds had looked out of the window and said, “It’s Sunday and it’s raining, I’m going back to bed!” and I finished my mug of tea unaccompanied.

nesting boxI was just about to give up and go inside to dress, yes, I was still in my dressing gown, when a Great Tit flew into the fig tree and started hopping from branch to branch.  It only took a few seconds to make it’s way down to where the peanut feeder was hanging and it started to eat it’s fill.  No sooner had it started eating than another one arrived and landed on the other nut feeder, also eating peanuts.  I was pleased I’d stayed those few extra seconds.

I’m not very good at identifying the garden birds and I have told myself that, this year, I’ll make more effort.  The first one I have learned is the Great Tit, with it’s yellow breast and black line down the front, along with those rather gorgeous white cheeks.

This expanding interest in garden birds has lead me to National Nest Box Week, which encourages everyone to put a nesting box in the garden.   It’s organised by the British Ornithological Trust and they have a page that shows how to make a nest box.   I followed these simple instruction and now have my first nesting box attached to a cherry tree in the orchard.   Apparently the size of the entry hole helps decide which birds will use the box and I’m hoping my box will attract the Great Tits I’ve seen so many of in the garden.   I’ll probably make another one but maybe with a smaller hole, suitable for blue tits, or  an open fronted one for a Robin.    I’ll let you know if they get inhabited.     Follow the link “make a nest box”  for full details about putting a nest box in your own garden

National Nest Box Week starts on St Valentine’s day each year.  What better Valentine’s day gift to the birds in our gardens than for everyone to put up a nesting box.  It’s a gift that will keep on giving.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Spring at last

The winter here in south west France has dragged on a bit this year, with the cold and wet weather extending into the beginning of this month.

tulipsHowever, the last couple of weeks have brought some spring weather with them and, suddenly, things are bursting into flower

These tulips are in a small flower bed right next to the main door to the house, so, although Tulips are short lived, I get to enjoy them everday whilst they are in bloom.

Elsewhere in the garden, my tomato seedlings are slowly growing.  The other day I potted on about 50 of my “Ian’s Red Cherry”.  I was very pleased about this as I thought I had lost all the seed to mice in last years mouse attack, but, happily, I found a canister of seeds which were a couple of years old.   As tomato seeds are well known for their survivability, I decided to give them a try.   Hopefully, I’ll now have enough tomatoes to save seed from later in the year.

I also have both Marmande and Moneymaker seedlings waiting to be potted on which I expect to be doing this week.

Earlier in the week, I found a few berry bushes being sold off for less than 2€ each and bought some.  I had an issue with my labelling of the black currant and blackberry bushes…  OK, I labelled them both as blackberry by mistake… but, once they fruit I’ll know which is which.  I’ve planted them and also a gooseberry bush I bought at the same time.

I also bought a couple of raspberries from the same place, but they are intensive care due to violent abuse before I took charge of them.   Another thing I bought recently, which is also in intensive care was a small olive tree.    I don’t think it had been watered for many months when I took it over.

The bulk of my work at the moment is directed along two paths.     The boundary hedges are in a pretty terrible condition and I’m investing a lot of time in restoring them.   The second path is simply weeding and grass cutting!      Sadly, my ill health last year meant that I didn’t get to do very much in the garden and, therefore, I have my work cut out this year to restore order.

In the orchard, the pear and cherry trees are in blossom and the apples are not far behind.  I noticed lots of buds on the peach and nectarine trees as well.   In the kitchen garden, Forsythia is blossoming in the corner beds.   I hope the bright yellow flowers are attracting lots of insects into the area.

Finally, I’ve also been attacking some of the large shrubs in the “park” area and am hoping they will respond to the harsh treatment.   Roses have been heavily pruned again this year.

The long drought and then severe winter have caused many of the potted shrubs to die.   Some pots froze solid even though I had moved them into an unheated workshop.   I’m keeping a careful watch on the pots, just in case there is any sign of recuperation.